When facing grave uncertainty, how do you survive?

Starting my business was easy.

Then, I almost went bankrupt.

When I became an entrepreneur in 2008, my first piece of business came easily. Then 2009 hit and the financial world came to a screeching halt. What little work I had at the time did the same.

That meant I had no income.

It went for weeks and months.

I did the only thing a sane person would do. I panicked.

I started rethinking this whole entrepreneurship thing. I didn’t like the idea of starving or moving back in with my mom as a thirty-something.

Then, I reached out to my entire network to see if anyone would give me a job. No one replied.

Then, I really panicked.

Certainty. We all crave it.

People even kill for it. But it’s a farce. Certainty is a myth. Unless you’re talking about death and taxes, so it’s said.

But isn’t it true that outside of a very few things in life, uncertainty reigns?

Our jobs, relationships, even our lives aren’t guaranteed. We don’t know how long they will last. But, we lull ourselves into thinking they will, when the truth is, uncertainty is lurking just around the corner.

Managing uncertainty is critical, especially in business. How one copes with it sets apart those who reach success and those who don’t.

After I desperately looked for jobs, I knew I was facing a crisis. Fear and despair swallowed me whole. I needed to fight but didn’t know what else to do.

I was alone. I was desperate.

Money was running out, so I stopped spending it. I made a new budget: a dollar a day or less (outside of rent).

Eating out, fancy coffee, even ice cream all vanished. I barely ate.

It wasn’t easy, but I made it a challenge and gamified it. It became easier. And, after a few weeks this radical financial diet, it became a habit.

But I had to do something to get my mind off of the fact I was going to go bankrupt if I didn’t find another source of revenue soon. There was only one problem: I exhausted my network and most of my resource. And, stress was crashing upon me like waves to the shore.

So I turned to someone whom I knew could help me–Jon Stewart. To be more precise, I turned on the Jon Stewart Show and would stream it until my mind was wrenched from my visions of what it would be like to go bankrupt. Eventually, my fear subsided and was replaced with deep belly laughs.

The pattern of fear and panic then to Jon Stewart and laughter continued for months.

Then, I got an email that changed everything.

My first client recommended my services to an organization and said they would be contacting me. After a couple of nail-chewing weeks, they sent me an email with a request for proposal.

I spent two days hacking away at a proposal and a pricing sheet. After I felt like it was ready, I sent it with a deep sigh and a prayer. “It was out of my hands, now,” I said to myself.

I won the work.

Even though I was competing against real advertising agencies, I got the project to redesign their website. That day, everything changed. I changed.

That experience shaped the way I see and deal with uncertainty. It still informs the way I respond to fear even to this day.

Everyone hates uncertainty. It sucks.

It causes paralysis, insecurity, fear. Our palms get sweaty, bodies shake, minds freeze. It can make the stoic cry and people from all walks of life make stupid decisions.

We all fear uncertainty for various reasons. So the question is how do we deal with it?

Here’s what you shouldn’t do—wish it away. Avoiding the reality of your situation doesn’t work. You have to see it for what it is. Then you can take the appropriate steps toward a possible solution.

I was going to go bankrupt. I knew it. And, I needed to accept that it was a likely possibility. That helped me to make drastic spending cuts. If I hadn’t drunk in that reality, I might have run out of money before I got my break.

Another lesson I had to accept was that I don’t have ultimate control, nor will I ever. And anyone who believes that they have control is lying to themselves. I had to see my limits: I would never be able to control uncertainty.

In that, I found freedom.

I was able to focus on what I could control.

I began with my fear. It was hard to control, but at least I could redirect it.

Survival was vital for me. I was going crazy. It felt like I had ants in my brain. I had to do something to take my mind off of the fear and risk. It worked. Jon Stewart was my hero.

These days I don’t watch much Stewart or any TV. But I do plunge myself into books. I swim in them. And they do the trick when I’m fearful. But even Harry Potter can’t ease my mind, sometimes, when I face something that feels impossible.

For me, I find myself needing to practice my faith. It comes out through prayer. I ask God to help me. I remember that He is with me. It’s a balm to an aching wound. Then somehow the impossible feels slightly more possible.

We will never master uncertainty. It won’t have any queen or king. But the practice of managing uncertainty is critical to success.

You’ll probably find that the better you control yourself, the more the uncertainty seems to be managed.

In fact, you are not managing uncertainty at all. You’re only managing yourself. The uncertainty will always be the same.

You should see it for what it is and accept its reality. And, in the moments when you’ve done all you can do, the only thing left is to steady your mind and heart, or at least distract it.

After winning that project, I’ve gone on to face many other uncertainties.

When I do, I still feel fear and insecurity. But I remember my first major crisis and the lessons learned.

And I walk forward into the darkness, excited for what the future will bring to light.

4 thoughts on “When facing grave uncertainty, how do you survive?

  1. So well written, John! You’re telling me my own story. 4 years ago, Mindy and I started a company that develops curriculum for children’s ministries. 1 year ago, we were on the brink of not paying the mortgage. The voice of fear was so loud! But at the moment it looked like we were going to sink, it all turned around. God is faithful! (And television is great too! Portlandia was my distraction of choice!)

    1. Wow, David! Thank you for reading the piece and your kind words. So great to hear from you. And it’s really great to hear about your business. It’s so scary taking on a business. God is faithful. And, yes, Portlandia is great. Let’s catch up sometime. I’d love to hear more about what’s going on and what has happened. Send me your email or phone number through the contact list or something and let’s catch up!

  2. Thanks John, I have been in the grip of uncertainty for so long I have forgotten what stability feels like.
    I’m not typically a movie watcher but I recently got a hold of a trilogy and have been watching them daily, but also feeling guilty that I was not dealing with reality. Those movies have been teaching lessons that I can apply to my life.
    Even as I read your post I got inspiration on what I should do next.
    I see that you created websites are you still doing this.

    Just before I started reading your post I told myself I needed to to ahead and begin my blog and website. I was trying to remember how I had done it before with limited finances.

    The guy who responded before me reminded me that I need to pursue my passion of providing resources for women’s ministries.
    Its amazing where we find inspiration and answers.
    Thank you again for sharing.

    1. Hi Vernelle, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Yes, it is a struggle, and I’m sorry to hear that it has been a long journey for you. You can start a free blog on platforms like WordPress and tumblr. Hope to read your work. Let me know if you have any other questions.

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